The big idea
Biden’s in the middle of a progressive-versus-centrist tug of war
President Biden must urgently figure out how to bridge the chasm between progressives who energize his party and swing-seat centrists who give it a majority in Congress today.
His ambitious agenda depends on it. So does the Democratic Party’s fate in the 2022 midterm elections.
The intraparty gap has held up Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda in Congress, where the White House has razor thin majorities that don’t allow for miscalculation or defections. Whether he can bring them to compromise will determine his legacy, at least on the domestic front.
A few stories in The Washington Post over the past few days highlight the stakes for Biden as well as the challenges ahead. They underline how time is ticking down for Democrats to have something to show voters going into next year, when history suggests they’ll lose Congress.
My colleague Marianna Sotomayor reported Sunday night on fired-up progressives who see, in Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure legislation and his broader $3.5 trillion push to rewrite the contract between Americans and their government, a once-in-a-generation opportunity for social change.
My colleague Cleve Wootson reported this morning on the end of the “benefit of the doubt” era of Biden’s presidency and his slipping support from Black and other minority voters who handed him the White House but now see “unfulfilled promises and dwindling hope for meaningful change.”
And my colleagues Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim reported over the weekend on Biden’s eroding job-approval numbers and steadily vanishing supply of a president’s most valuable commodity: Time.
It’s not just about the midterms. Biden hopes to head into European summits at the end of this month — including a gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, focused on the climate crisis — able to plausibly claim American democracy can deliver for its people and the world. This is especially true when it comes to global warming, smothering the pandemic and reviving the economy.
Lawmakers have scheduled December showdowns over keeping the government open and raising the debt limit to pay for previously approved spending, with Republicans refusing to vote against a default that would wreak havoc on the global economy.
The most immediate deadline, however, will be Virginia’s Nov. 2 gubernatorial election, pitting Democratic veteran Terry McAuliffe against Republican Glenn Youngkin, a supporter of former president Donald Trump, in a bellwether race that has been far tighter than Biden would like.
But right now, Biden faces progressives who are feeling ascendant in a party that has moved leftward — and less inclined to make compromises on what they see as their shared agenda with Biden, Marianna reported.
“Moments after President Biden instructed House Democrats to make concessions or risk derailing passage of his economic agenda, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus hastily gathered in the depths of the Capitol on Oct. 1 to talk strategy about what policies they could sacrifice.
No one was ready to compromise
“According to several lawmakers and aides who participated in the two-hour meeting, members stood up one by one to vouch for establishing universal pre-K, making the child tax credit permanent and guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid family leave. Others mentioned the need to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision, which would get them one step closer to the progressive goal of Medicare-for-all.”
They didn't agree on what to reduce, or how, and left for a two-week recess resolved “not to give an inch publicly,” while keeping up private discussions about “the reality that some of their priorities would probably have to be jettisoned,” Marianna reported.
Cleve, meanwhile, did extensive interviews in the pivotal state of Georgia, where Biden’s campaign promises helped secure both Senate seats and thereby the majority in the chamber — but now feel to many voters like just so much talk.
“‘If midterms are about enthusiasm and turnout, who do you think is excited to vote on November 2 at this moment?’ said Nsé Ufot, chief executive officer of the New Georgia Project, which has registered more than a half-million voters. ‘Because it ain’t Democrats. It ain’t Black folks. It ain’t young people.’”
While the White House defends its record and insists it hasn’t given up on big issues, Cleve found “[s]ome Biden voters said the president will struggle to keep hard-to-engage voters in the fold if he fails to deliver on the issues that motivated them in the first place, notably police reform and voting rights. And they dismissed Democrats’ efforts to blame the lack of progress solely on the partisan divide.”
Jeff and Seung Min, meanwhile, reported on how the Biden White House approach has frustrated some Congressional allies.
“They are really good at not showing their cards, and it leaves you with the impression they’re just trying to piece it all together,” one of the [Democratic] aides said.
And “the president has little to show thus far for his strategy. Congressional Democrats have struggled for months to reach an agreement, and the possibility remains that Biden’s entire agenda could collapse amid internal sniping,” they reported.
Presenting a new climate-themed newsletter: Our colleague Maxine Joselow is launching The Climate 202 — an essential newsletter delivering the biggest stories about climate policy and politics. The newsletter will help you get up to speed on legislative hearings, international negotiations and federal rulemaking that will have major climate repercussions. Subscribe today!
What's happening now
Retailers in California must now have gender neutral toy sections, California law says
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the legislation Saturday, which will compel large retailers to make the change by 2024. “Proponents said the requirement will help consumers comparison shop and also tamp down on gender stereotypes that hurt children who play with toys marketed to a different gender. Detractors said the law infringes on business owners’ freedom to market their products and lay out their stores as they see fit,” Jonathan Edwards reports.
Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences is divided among three economists
The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to three U.S.-based economists today for their work studying how hiring immigrants does not lower pay for other workers and increasing the minimum wage does not discourage hiring, David J. Lynch reports. The prize was divided between David Card of the University of California at Berkeley and two other economists, Joshua Angrist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Guido Imbens of Stanford University.
Oil prices just keep going up
“Crude prices are outpacing copper and other commodities by the widest margin in more than a decade, lifted by wagers on constrained production,” the Wall Street Journal's Amrith Ramkumar reports. U.S. crude reached a seven-year high of $81.50 per barrel early Monday.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
Experts are still searching for the origins of covid-19, leading to scrutiny of wildlife farming areas in China such as Enshi. “Beijing has rebuffed international calls for more details on supply chains of live wildlife leading to Wuhan markets, even as local officials shut down wildlife farms — possibly coming across some of the information the WHO seeks. U.S. intelligence agencies told President Biden in August that the virus was not a biological weapon, but that natural transmission and a lab-related accident were possible origins,” Michael Standaert and Eva Dou report.
- “Beijing has been less than eager to find answers in Hubei, as it touts its own theory that the virus may have originated overseas.”
- “China's government and the WHO say the likeliest origin of the pandemic is natural transmission through wildlife. Yet little progress has been made in establishing a definitive natural pathway from a bat to a Wuhan market — or for any competing theory, for that matter — because of the Chinese government's refusal to grant scientists access.”
Employees are alleging toxic ‘bro culture’ at Blue Origin. Jeff Bezos’s space venture has descended into dysfunction, current and former employees told Christian Davenport and Rachel Lerman. “The new management’s ‘authoritarian bro culture,’ as one former employee put it, affected how decisions were made and permeated the institution, translating into condescending, sometimes humiliating, comments and harassment toward some women and a stagnant top-down hierarchy that frustrated many employees.”
- “It’s bad,” said one former top executive. “I think it’s a complete lack of trust. Leadership has not engendered any trust in the employee base.”
- “The company’s cultural issues came to light last month when Alexandra Abrams, the former head of Blue Origin’s employee communications, released an essay she said was written in conjunction with 20 other current and former Blue Origin employees. It said the company ‘turns a blind eye to sexism, is not sufficiently attuned to safety concerns and silences those who seek to correct wrongs.’"
Columbus monuments are coming down, but he’s still honored in 6,000 places across the U.S. “At least 40 monuments to Columbus have been removed since 2018, according to a Washington Post and MIT analysis of crowdsourced data and local news reports. But those removals, the majority of which happened in 2020 and 2021, represent only a fraction of the more than 130 that still remain,” Youjin Shin, Nick Kirkpatrick, Catherine D’Ignazio and Wonyoung So report.
… and beyond
Call it the Great Supply Chain Disruption. They are running out of places to put things at one of the largest U.S. ports, the New York Times's Peter S. Goodman reports. “As major ports contend with a staggering pileup of cargo, what once seemed like a temporary phenomenon — a traffic jam that would eventually dissipate — is increasingly viewed as a new reality that could require a substantial refashioning of the world’s shipping infrastructure.”
- “The turmoil in the shipping industry and the broader crisis in supply chains is showing no signs of relenting. It stands as a gnawing source of worry throughout the global economy, challenging once-hopeful assumptions of a vigorous return to growth as vaccines limit the spread of the pandemic.”
- “It is not merely that goods are scarce. It is that products are stuck in the wrong places, and separated from where they are supposed to be by stubborn and constantly shifting barriers.”
The Biden agenda
Enforcement questions swirl around Biden's sweeping vaccine mandate
The president says his coronavirus vaccine and testing mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees will save lives and improve the economy, but the agency meant to enforce the mandate may not have the manpower, NBC's Heidi Przybyla and Laura Strickler report. “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was already handling a broad mission prior to the new rule, which it is expected to issue in a matter of weeks. To stretch its resources, the agency typically prioritizes high-risk industries and targets repeat offenders, and it offers help, in addition to issuing fines, to businesses that are out of compliance.”
As deadlines near, hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops have not yet complied with vaccine mandate
Biden issued a directive in August saying that the nation's 2.1 million troops must get vaccinated, Alex Horton reports, but immunization rates are lagging. “Critics say the large gaps between vaccination deadlines jeopardize how ready the military can be in a moment of crisis. They point specifically to the reserves and National Guard, which over the past two years have been called upon in numerous emergencies — at home and overseas — and yet large numbers of their personnel have so far refused to get vaccinated.”
Democrats are alarmed by the president's declining approval ratings
“Nearly nine months into office, Biden and his team contend that the ravages of the pandemic are starting to recede due to his actions,” Politico's Christopher Cadelago and Laura Barrón-López report. “They point to polling showing strong support for his legislative agenda, anchored by physical infrastructure and social and climate spending packages. They note how rare it’s been for Democratic lawmakers to break ranks, even during this current, difficult period.
“But Biden’s standing with Americans has plummeted, with his average approval rating plunging by nearly 15 points since late June.”
Afghan interpreter who once helped rescue Biden escapes Afghanistan
Aman Khalili, an interpreter who who helped rescue then- Sen. Biden in 2008 after an emergency helicopter landing, has escaped Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum reports.
- “Following a series of demoralizing setbacks and frustrating dead-ends over the past six weeks, U.S. veterans worked with former Afghan soldiers and well-placed Pakistani allies to carry out a clandestine operation to drive Mr. Khalili and his family more than 600 miles across Afghanistan and get them to Pakistan, according to those involved in the effort.”
- Khalili told the Journal he and his family left the nation last week.
Children affected by pandemic-related deaths of parents, visualized
Hot on the left
Former president Donald Trump's administration never disclosed several gifts from foreign leaders, the New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt reports, violating long-standing regulations. “Whether this was indifference, sloppiness or the Great Train Robbery, it shows such a cavalier attitude to the law and the regular process of government,” Stanley M. Brand, a criminal defense lawyer, ethics expert and former top lawyer for the House of Representatives, told the paper.
Hot on the right
Trump wished a happy birthday to Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by police on Jan. 6. “In the video, Trump called Babbitt a ‘a truly incredible person’ and made no mention of his own role on a day when thousands of his supporters violently stormed the Capitol, disrupting Congress’s count of the electoral college votes in the November 2020 presidential election. The violent siege ultimately resulted in five deaths,” John Wagner reports.
Today in Washington
Biden will return to the White House from Wilmington, Del., at 4:20 p.m.
Can tacos help solve global challenges? The new International Taco Council aims to find out, Emily Heil reports.
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.